Legislation on the right to disconnect looks promising. But does that really explain why workers put in so many hours long after the end of their working day?
This article by Ope Akanbi, Ryerson University originally appeared in Conversation and is published here with permission.
In 1998, an ambulance driver in France did not answer phone calls from his employer outside of his working hours. He was fired, raising questions about workers’ obligation to be available 24 hours a day.
Less than a decade later, France enacted the right to log off to protect workers from being penalized for ignoring after-hours messages. Italy, Spain and Ireland have followed suit and now Ontario is considering passing a similar law.
But the right to disconnect, which forces large organizations to formulate policies on digital communication outside of working hours, applies to knowledge workers who, unlike the ambulance driver, may not have a physical separation. between professional and non-professional spheres.
This blurring of boundaries reveals important complexities that affect the enforceability of right to disconnect legislation.
Work tools not related to the workplace
Generally speaking, the right to disconnect grapples with the physical constraints of traditional work compared to today’s digital workplaces. So, legislation that makes sense to a factory worker returning home overnight applies to the knowledge worker of the 21st century.
While digital communication and the proliferation of mobile devices may allow workers to extend their working hours, they are neither necessary nor sufficient to explain the problem of overwork among knowledge workers. The tools required to perform knowledge work, unlike the physical labor of a factory worker, are not limited to a physical workspace.
In the absence of real physical constraints, renegotiating the pace of work and its duration is now a largely cultural exercise. Digital communication and the use of mobile devices can erode the ability to disconnect from work, but this depends on workplace cultures which vary among employers.
Individually, some employees are trying to regulate the boundaries of work and life by using separate devices for their work, while others have resigned themselves to not having a work-life separation in the midst of calls. to find the right one in work-life conflict.
It has even been suggested that due to the failure of institutional structures to protect personal time, individual workers must manage their own work schedules to prevent overwork and its negative effects.
Asking workers to manage their own work schedules assumes that they are in control. In fact, control over the job varies depending on the type of job, seniority and employer’s policies, among other factors. At one end of the spectrum are the assembly workers, subject to the rhythm of the machine.
In contrast, knowledge workers can exercise more control over their pace of work and schedules. Openly or surreptitiously, they shop online, use social media, play games and watch their children, all during working hours. For knowledge workers, work and personal time are thus linked in a way that the eight-hour working day law did not foresee.
As a result, disconnection laws will not necessarily result in a uniform restriction of work to an eight-hour window. Beyond the impracticality of such restrictions in many occupations, knowledge workers have varying preferences for how they allocate their work and personal time.
Integration of time on and off the clock
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many workers, especially parents, to integrate work and personal responsibilities. While some deplored the absence of borders, others took advantage of it.
The right to disconnect also fails to anticipate what Arlie Hochschild, an American sociologist, calls the âsecond shiftâ: household chores, which are often unpaid and performed by women.
Although the eight-hour working day rights were designed to help workers enjoy their free time, for many women they are just a shift in the direction of another type of work that is not available. has no right to log out.
Despite the questionable effectiveness of right to disconnect laws, they raise important questions about the organization of modern work alongside our collective expectations about the kind of work we value as a society and how much time it should take. use. Laws, and the discussions that result from them, can contribute to a cultural shift away from workaholism, at least around paid work.
Some organizations like Volkswagen and Daimler have already introduced restrictions around digital communication several years ago. The right to log out may encourage more businesses to take similar action.
Increased autonomy of workers
But given the variation in worker preferences and the implications for job satisfaction, treating the right to log out as an authorized refusal to respond to emails after 5 p.m. does little to solve the problem of overwork among knowledge workers. . After all, tight deadlines can create the need to work long hours without necessarily communicating with co-workers.
Instead, employers should focus on flexibility and give knowledge workers more autonomy over their availability. This is a significant change that requires employers to trust their knowledge workers to do their jobs.
The right to disconnect can be the catalyst an organization needs to review its policies. However, a cultural change that destigmatizes a less hectic work pace and gives employees more control over their work limits will more directly address the problem of overwork.
Ope Akanbi, Assistant Professor, Professional Communication, Ryerson University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.